Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets which were written on both sides... Exodus 32:15.
We always knew, deep down, that it would be like this. When the much awaited Agreement between Mr Cameron and Mr Tusk (Britain and the EU) was finally revealed on Tuesday, 02 February, it was not so much like Moses’ descent from the mountain, as junk mail through the letterbox.
Not so much MasterChef as Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares.
All that intelligent people need to know is this. Mr Cameron might get his four-year moratorium on in-work benefits (i.e. tax credits) for newly arriving European migrants. But, only after the European Parliament (751 of some of the most improbable legislators on Earth) has approved the so-called Emergency Brake, which vote will take place after the British referendum according to a timeline that they impose. (It could be years.) So the great people of Great Britain might vote to remain a member of the EU and yet still have the promised “reforms” struck down some time later by a whim of a bunch of lavishly funded oddballs.
Further, the issue of so-called universal benefits being paid to people who are not even resident – for example to the children of UK-resident Polish workers who still live in Poland – has been fudged. It seems that such child benefit would still have to be paid, but at the rate paid in Poland. And of course, in the case of UK-resident Finnish workers, that rate would be higher than the current dispensation. (I wonder how many layers of bureaucracy it will require to verify that such payments are effected correctly – but don’t worry, that will be swept under the carpet.)
Over the last week there has been a lot of talk about proposals to restore the sovereignty of the UK Parliament over European law. Interestingly, a Pandora’s Box of new ideas – mostly impracticable – appears to have opened. But Sir Francis Jacobs QC has said that, so long as Britain remains inside the EU, in any confrontation between London and Brussels, EU law will always prevail. These are things that we should have debated long ago; though Enoch Powell and Tony Benn warned us about this back in 1975.
The press was unimpressed by the Agreement. The Spectator described it as sixteen pages of bluster and caveat. Who will speak for England? thundered the Daily Mail. Brussels will have right to reject benefit curbs, mumbled The Times.
Across Europe, the EU-dependent political elites huffed and puffed. Britain is testing our patience (polite version) offered Martin Schultz, the President of the European Parliament. Guy Verhofstadt (a former Belgian PM and dedicated passenger on the Brussels gravy-train) declared in the European Parliament that, outside the EU, the UK would become a dwarf. But then the Belgians, whose country came into existence in 1830 on the basis of a British-sponsored treaty, and for whose integrity we went to war in August 1914 (and which – by the way – has perhaps the least distinctive national culture in Europe), are leading experts in national dwarfism.
Meanwhile, as we await the final draft of this pitiful document, those big hitters in Mr Cameron’s cabinet who might have made a move have gone to ground. Mrs May mumbles sweet nothings about doable deals. Though Dr Liam Fox MP told The Today Programme last Wednesday that there are at least five cabinet ministers waiting to declare themselves OUTs. During the weird hiatus between now and the day the deal is finalised the INs can make their case in public – but the OUTs can’t. What sort of a level playing field is that?
All we were asking for was the right, which our forefathers took for granted, to control our own borders and to devise our own welfare system without foreign interference. But it seems that is now impossible within this imperial (and imperious) European Union, of which we are but a dull and troublesome province.
If you intend to vote IN, please be quite clear that Britain returning to the farm having voted to stay, will be treated like the prodigal son returning to his father – with feasting, sniggers and concealed contempt. And a grim determination that this wayward dolt shall be kept on a very short leash hereon in. We would sit on the naughty step forevermore, unless we agreed to be entirely compliant. So, after an IN vote, we might expect to have our “fair share” of Syrian refugees foisted upon us before Christmas – not including those who are now being kicked out of increasingly strife-torn Sweden.
And yet the OUT campaign is a shambles. Fractious, divided and without a leader. Theresa has opted for the simple life. And Boris was there none. Thus far, he has shimmied around the side-lines with intermittent bursts of burbled banter. (Though he has now written a highly ambivalent piece in this morning’s Daily Telegraph.) Mr Gove has taken flight and vanished, like the legendary Oozlum Bird of ancient British mythology, which had the extraordinary capacity to disappear in mid-air by flying up its own orifice. Even Nigel Farage is absent without leave (not for the first time). Where are the valiant men (or women) who might seize King Arthur’s sword and lead a march for England?
Conservative supporters must admit that, if Mr Cameron were to lose this referendum, his premiership would be holed below the waterline of credibility. Similarly, it is difficult to imagine the two years or so of post-OUT vote withdrawal negotiations being led by a cabinet minister who quietly partook of Mr Cameron’s thin gruel. If the Conservative party is the uber-successful historical political machine that it is cracked up to be (by historians such as the inimitable Alan Clark and Robert Blake) – the Selfish Gene in boater and blazer – there really ought to be some cove lurking on the wings with a Plan B.
It’s all a bit dispiriting really. It’s like a choir being fired up by Gareth Malone to sing Jerusalem, but then being told of a change of programme: Send in the Clowns.
But watching the rugby (Six Nations) over the weekend with an old friend (posh Scottish university), I took heart. Each of us rooting for different sides, it struck me how easily we have accepted our French and Italian friends into our close-knit British tribal family. If we were free to make our own decisions, that wouldn’t change.
The only thing we can do is to articulate the arguments as sharply as possible (charismatic leader or no) and to counter the barrage of misinformation and flagrant scaremongering that is now on offer. (This morning “Downing Street” is suggesting that an OUT vote would bring The Jungle to Kent.) That’s what I’ll be trying to do as best I can over the next few months, as I’m now convinced that the only way is OUT.
Make no mistake; we have a fight on our hands. We shall not go gentle into that good night.
And a big fat GONG XI FATT CHAI for all our readers of Chinese heritage. May the year of the Monkey bring reward! Today is the day to sweep your home and to take stock. Knowing full well, as I have already warned, that by the time the year of the Rooster dawns one year hence, the landscape of the world may seem quite different.
 I am, of course, obliged to Jacob Rees-Mogg MP for this epithet.